"The British have been called a nation of shopkeepers. In my opinion we Americans are on the road to becoming a nation of short-order cooks.
Take my old friend Fred Ogilvie: mature, sophisticated, a delightful companion—before the culinary bug hit him. Now....
"We were anchored off Clemente," I was telling Fred over a schnapps one night at the Idle Hour, "when bango! this baby struck. Felt like the grand-daddy of all rock bass."
"Rock bass, hmmm," Fred said. "You know, a good trick with rock bass is to soak it in a white wine for 24 hours—"
"I was afraid to start reeling in for fear of snapping my line," I went on. "So the skipper said he'd cruise along in the monster's wake—"
"Did you fillet it?" Fred asked.
"Did I what?"
"Fillet it. Cut away the skin and bones before placing it in the pan."
"Look, Fred," I said, "I haven't landed the fish yet and already you're cooking it. Let me tell my story."
"Sorry. Go on."
"Well, the way this baby was streaking along, practically towing the boat, the skipper said it might be albacore—"
"There's a wonderful old Chinese recipe for baked albacore," Fred said dreamily. "Cover the bottom of your pan with chopped bay leaves—"
"Dammit!" I exploded. "It wasn't rock bass or albacore. It was a 400-pound basking shark."
"Oh!" Fred said. "Well, the only way to prepare basking shark is broil it 40 minutes over a sea coal fire...."
It's not only the middlebrows who have been stricken. The think set's caught the virus, too.
A friend and I were waiting our turn at the first tee of a golf club frequented by the local aerospace crowd. Waiting alongside us was a threesome of astrophysicists. (I knew they were astrophysicists because they wore Vandyke beards and smoked Dunhill pipes.) They were arguing heatedly.
"Logically, it's the next step," the first one said.
"You're all wet," the second said. "In my opinion—"
"Listen," I whispered to my friend, "we'll find out how they're going to spend our money after they put a man on the moon."
"—the next step is to add extract—folding in the eggs comes later," the second man finished. "And I've been baking mock angel cake for years."
"So have I—and haven't had a failure yet," the first man said. "I always sift my flour and sugar at least four times. Lessens the danger of falling and gives me a smoother texture."
"The real secret of a good mock angel," the third man chimed in, "is in adding your cream of tartar, salt and vanilla all at the same time."
"Not to change the subject," said the first man, pulling a clipping from his pocket, "but here's an exciting new recipe for ladyfingers √† la fran√ßaise...."
Even the working class hasn't escaped infection.
Returning from a weekend of skiing at Mammoth last winter I stopped on route 395 at a little place called Truckers Inn. I was attempting mayhem on a rib steak when a logging truck pulled up. The driver, a giant with a scar across his cheek, and his helper, a beer barrel covered with hair, strode in.
"Chef's salad, Maisie," Scarface said as the pair sat down at the counter. "I'll put it together."
The waitress nodded and turned to the kitchen. In a moment she returned loaded with tableware, utensils and ingredients which she laid out before the trucker.
"Lemme have the makings for a cup of orange pekoe, honey," the Barrel said. "Brew it meself."
Scarface sliced up a clove of garlic, rubbed it around the bowl; selected lettuce leaves; sliced a tomato; chopped a few stalks of celery. He tossed the mixture. Then he took a small vial from the pocket of his sweat-stained shirt and poured the contents over the salad.
"A old family recipe for French dressing," Scarface confided to the Barrel, who was busy steeping his tea. "A secret wild horses couldn't drag outa me."
Feeling ill, I got up, paid my bill and got out in the open air.
The outdoor gourmet
For me, this whole matter of male cookery came to a head during a camping trip last spring. My companion was an old friend—George Sheffield, a time-and-motion study man.
I awoke the first morning, breathed deep of the pine-scented air and thought hungrily of bacon and eggs frying over an open wood fire. George, who had volunteered to take care of the cooking, was already astir.
"How about lumberjack jumbo for breakfast?" George said as he wrestled a large camp cooler from the back of the station wagon. "Recipe I picked up at the last national amateur men's cooking championships. Won third honors, you know—"
"I sort of had my mouth set for bacon and eggs—"
"—cooked over an open fire?" George finished. He laughed. "Nobody cooks over an open fire any more. Too messy. Inefficient. I prepared all the meals for our trip in my home kitchen a week ago. Put 'em in plastic bags, labeled 'em, placed 'em in the deep freeze."
"You mean there won't be any cooking over an open fire?"
"Nope." George tapped the cooler. "Everything's in here, precooked. All I have to do is pick out a box labeled lumberjack jumbo, heat it over this portable gas stove and—"
My lawyer tells me that with time off for good behavior I should be out of here in a few years. Lying in my bunk nights, I keep dreaming of bacon and eggs sizzling over an open wood fire....